Help! Why Am I Doing Half My Coworker’s Job?


Dear We Are Teachers,

My 3rd-grade partner teacher is out on maternity leave for the rest of the year. Her maternity leave sub is really struggling, and my AP has gradually been asking me to take on more and more responsibilities to help make sure her class is getting what they need. First it was meeting with the sub every day. Then, my AP asked me to teach a section of her class during my planning period so kids don’t fall behind in math. Now, after a parent raised a concern about grading, I’ve been asked to take over all the grading for this teacher! I was barely getting my work done as it is, and when I tried to point out that I really can’t make this work, my AP said to try to remember why I took this job and “at the end of the day, we have to do what’s right for kids.” Oh, he also said “June is just a few months away!” How do I stick up for myself without sounding like I don’t care about the kids?

—One Job is Enough, Thanks

Dear O.J.I.E.T.,

Ugh. I hate it when teachers’ kindness is weaponized to get them to perform unpaid labor. It always makes me feel like this Arthur GIF:


What you’ve told me is all perfectly fair, and I’m sorry you’re being asked to “remember your why.” Just your initial commitment to your partner teacher’s class should be proof enough you’re very in touch with your “why.”  

Clearly, talking about your own needs has little to no impact on your AP. Email or say this in person:

“I understand it’s been a tough adjustment to Ms. Jackson’s long-term sub. I know it affects more than just me, and I also know we have a serious sub shortage. But at the end of the day, I have to do what’s right for my students. Quality teaching is my top priority, and I cannot offer that to my own students—or to Ms. Jackson’s—when so much of my time, energy, and work is being spread thin. This workload simply isn’t sustainable, and I’m burning out. I have some ideas for making sure Ms. Jackson’s students have what they need without sacrificing my own students’ needs.”

If he wants to pretend that education is only about “what’s right for kids,” two can play that game.

Dear We Are Teachers,

My ceiling-mounted projector has been out of focus for quite some time. I submitted a tech ticket, but it hasn’t been fixed. So yesterday, I got on a chair and tried to put it in focus myself and fell. My ankle felt sore but not injured or broken, but I didn’t tell anyone because I figured it was my choice not to be safe. This morning, it looks like my ankle could be seriously sprained. Should I tell someone? I’ve heard workers’ comp is a nightmare—but I also don’t want to pay for something I wouldn’t have done if our IT department had been responsive.

—Workers’ comp for my ankle bonk?

Dear W.C.F.M.A.B.,

Yikes! Do two things ASAP:

  1. Email your supervisor that you were injured from a fall in the classroom. Don’t talk about the chair or your tech ticket for the projector, though you will have to provide that information later if you decide to file for workers’ comp. In most states, you have to let them know within 24 hours for any kind of coverage, so keep that in mind.  
  2. Find the union rep at your school and talk to them about the workers’ comp process. Let their advice inform your decision. They will also have advice on how to proceed with medical care at this point.

I’m sorry this happened to you. In the future, send your AP a “crystal ball” email warning about a potential liability.

“I’ve had a tech ticket in for a while for my projector, but no one has come to fix it. Should I scramble up on a desk and fix it myself?”

That’ll get things moving.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I had an impressive local surgeon come visit my middle school science classes on Friday as a guest speaker. Most of my classes were great, but one class was so rude I had to intervene multiple times. They asked inappropriate questions (“Did you party in college?”), talked over her while she was trying to explain something, and laughed at inappropriate times (e.g., after a student announced, “I’m bored”). I have no idea how to address it with them, and none of my instincts are school appropriate. What would you do?

—cut it out

Dear C.I.O.,

Aren’t middle schoolers fun?

I understand (and have experienced) your embarrassment. One year, after we explicitly told the entire student body not to ask boneheaded questions like “How much money do you have?”, one of our students raised his hand and asked a world-famous conductor, verbatim, “How much money do you have?” I became rage. (The lovely conductor laughed and said, “I make enough to buy Starbucks every morning—that’s enough luxury for me!” What a gem.)

Middle schoolers can be total doofuses. But my guess is they didn’t wake up and say, “I can’t wait to make my science teacher look like an idiot today.” Maybe something hilarious was circling in their group chat just before class. Maybe they wanted to be mature and polite but their frontal lobes were standing-room only. Or maybe they were nervous, and their nerves expressed themselves as total buffoonery.

I would recommend the following:

  • Talk to your students about their behavior using the framework of impact vs. intent. Stress that you don’t think they meant to make your guest speaker feel bad. But retell the story and invite them to imagine her perspective. This speaker was really excited to visit a middle school and talk to students about her journey to becoming a surgeon and her work. What kind of assumptions might the speaker make when met with their behavior? Maybe together, you can decide on what’s appropriate—a group apology, an invitation to try again over Zoom, etc.
  • Do email the caretakers of any students whose behaviors you can pinpoint. Not like a “Your kid is a doofus” email, but something along the lines of “We had a very important guest speaker on Tuesday, and Kai made the choice to behave in a way that didn’t represent himself in a positive way. [Note specific behavior here]. I wanted you to be aware he’s working on the skill of showing maturity during important conversations. I know he’ll need this skill since he has such a bright future ahead of him.”
  • The next time you have a guest speaker, front-loading is everything. In the days (or even weeks) before, prep your students depending on how much guidance you think they need. Etiquette and behavior for a guest speaker (including nonverbal communication), definitely. Maybe you hold a practice round and make your AP come in and talk about themselves. Depending on your trust level, I might pre-approve any audience questions. Maybe you even tap into their goofy sides and use this secret student trick.

You’re certainly not the first teacher to have been horrified by a class’s behavior in front of an important guest, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

I know from experience that guest speakers can be very understanding. I once had a student raise her hand and ask a district attorney who was judging our mock trial, “Are you two dating? Your name is on the receipt for both your McDonald’s drinks so I know you bought it for her.”

He married me anyway.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at askweareteachers@weareteachers.com.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach 5th grade in the Milwaukee area. I don’t know when this happened, but I guess wearing shorts in winter is cool now? During our 15-degree recess yesterday, I looked around and realized about half my students were in shorts, only a handful had a winter coat, and none had hats or gloves on. This is not an access issue. We have a whole “borrow” area in my classroom with cold weather clothing in a variety of sizes. My students tell me they just don’t like to wear them! Granted I tend to run cold, but this just seems unsafe to me. How can I motivate my students to dress appropriately?

—THEY’RE REALLY MILWAUKEENG THE LINE HERE



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